Pets bring us joy throughout our lives. They play, snuggle, show affection, make us smile—all while asking very little in return. A walk here, a vet visit there, some scoops of food and maybe a bit of catnip will keep them happy for years by our sides. Elderly people especially seem to find joy in pet ownership. Near the end of life, when health begins to decline, children and friends age and often live far away, and all seems to be drawing to an close, the tiny tongue of a puppy giving kisses may be just what someone needs to feel loved and wanted. Yet if an elderly person has a pet and needs to be moved into an assisted living facility, or is already in an assisted living facility and wants to acquire a pet for companionship, there are a few factors to consider.
Does the facility allow for or accommodate pet ownership? Without this simple allowance, it may not be possible to get or to keep a pet in a given facility. Pet ownership may also depend on the type of pet; many facilities would prefer smaller, quieter animals such as cats or fish rather than a large dog, which could bark and disturb other residents or just be too big for the sometimes small living spaces available. Some assisted living residences may be fine with small pets such as hamsters or even mice; others may not be so comfortable with rodents in their facility. Finding out the policy on pets is important. If it is important to find a facility that allows pets, there are many pet-friendly assisted living communities to be found through a simple web search.
Examine the kind of care a pet needs. Just like the care received by a person in assisted living, a pet has specific care needs, which are based on its species, breed, age, and health. Aging animals may need help getting around or may need more veterinary visits. Younger animals need more time and space to play and run around. Dogs must be walked a few times a day for exercise and daily needs, while cats typically just need a space to sleep and a litter box. Someone will have to buy food for the animal and complete the physical act of feeding it. Rodent or bird cages will have to be cleaned periodically. If the prospective assisted living resident can find a way to complete all of these tasks, either alone or with the assistance of caregivers, nevertheless, the plan must be solid before moving a pet into an assisted living facility.
Glitches must be accounted for in the plan too. If the pet becomes sick or injured and the person in assisted living is having trouble properly caring for it, who will come and provide temporary care for the animal? Conversely, if the person in assisted living becomes sick or injured and cannot provide proper care, who will step in? Is there a line beyond which the animal can no longer live in the facility? For example, if the person becomes wheelchair bound or becomes unable to feed the pet due to numbness in the hands, is that a boundary line? What should happen if, sadly, the animal passes or is lost? Who will take the animal when the owner eventually passes away? Many pets outlive their elderly owners and can become depressed without their beloved friends and companions. They will need to be treated with extra special care by new owners.
Yet the benefits of pet ownership are many, especially for the elderly, who may be revitalized by having a little being to love and care for. When times or logistics make pet ownership difficult, it is important to persevere nonetheless. Elderly people who miss spouses or friends who have passed, who experience chronic pain or memory loss, or who are generally depressed or lonely can find much joy in even the smallest expressions of love from a pet. Pets require more exercise and can stave off a sedentary lifestyle in the elderly, which can keep their muscles, bones, joints, and minds healthy. They also break up sometimes monotonous days in an assisted living facility. The cessation of boredom means that the elderly residents’ brains are healthier and more active. Being happy often goes hand-in-hand with being healthy, in the case of the elderly, and so every effort should be made to keep them engaged and optimistic about life.
There are provable physical health benefits to owning an animal; studies have shown a link between a cat’s purr and lower blood pressure, for example. A decrease in stress caused by relaxation or play time with an animal can lower blood pressure, aid immune and digestive system function, and sometimes even bring help in the case of an injury or stroke. Owning a pet is very often worth the work it takes, even in an assisted living facility, where many elderly adults may feel more at home when they have a trusted companion by their sides.
Lade, Diane C. (June 23, 2012). Senior care homes going to the dogs—and cats. The Sun-Sentinel Available at http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2012-06-23/health/fl-pets-in-nursing-homes-20120622_1_pet-policies-companion-animals-dog-or-cat. Retrieved May 29, 2016.
McGarvey, Moira. (July 30, 2014). Top Places To Retire With Your Dog. The Huffington Post: Blog. Available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/moira-mcgarvey-/retire-with-pets_b_5355054.html. Retrieved May 29, 2016.
Pets in Assisted Living. AssistedLivingFacilities.org. Available at http://www.assistedlivingfacilities.org/resources/choosing-an-assisted-living-facility/pets/. Retrieved May 29, 2016.